KUALA LUMPUR - Nine Malaysias who were stranded in North Korea in a diplomatic standoff over the death of Mr Kim Jong Nam arrived in Kuala Lumpur in a Malaysian military plane at about 5am on Friday morning (March 31).
The nine had been held in Pyongyang amid a bitter diplomatic row between Malaysia and North Korea over the return of the body of Mr Kim, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Mr Kim Jong Nam was killed with the lethal nerve agent VX on Feb 13 at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 (KLIA2), triggering a row between the two countries, which expelled each other's ambassadors and barred their citizens from leaving.
But a deal announced by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and confirmed by North Korean state media on Thursday said the two countries would lift their respective travel bans, and Kuala Lumpur would send the body to North Korea.
Foreign Minister Anifah Aman, waiting at the airport in Kuala Lumpur with family members, said that diplomacy had served Malaysia well and that the investigation into the murder of Mr Kim would continue "to bring the perpetrators to justice".
"There can be no substitute for diplomacy, for level-headedness in dealing with such situations, and this has served Malaysia well in this instance," said the minister.
Mr Mohd Nor Azrin Md Zain, counsellor at the Malaysian embassy in Pyongyang, said the nine were "very concerned" when the travel ban was imposed but added that they had faced no harassment from the North Korean authorities.
He said staff from other embassies had offered to help bring in food and other supplies from Beijing.
No questions were taken from the media at the briefing.
On Thursday, following the deal, Mr Najib declared on Twitter: The “diplomatic crisis is over”.
“Following the completion of the autopsy on the deceased and receipt of a letter from his family requesting the remains be returned to North Korea, the coroner has approved the release of the body,” Mr Najib said in a statement.
The prime minister did not specify who in the family had made the request. Mr Kim’s wife and children, who were living in exile in the Chinese territory of Macau, staged a vanishing act after the murder and are believed to be in hiding.
South Korea has blamed Pyongyang for the killing of Mr Kim, claiming there was a standing order from North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un to murder his exiled and estranged half-brother. But Pyongyang has denied this and denounced Malaysia’s investigation as an attempt to smear the secretive regime.
It has also insisted that the man died of a heart attack and his body should be handed over to Pyongyang.
A van believed to be carrying the body of Mr Kim Jong Nam left a hospital morgue in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday, where it had been kept for more than six weeks, and headed for the airport’s cargo centre. Chinese and Malaysian media reported it was put on board a Malaysian Airlines plane bound for Beijing that left Kuala Lumpur at 7.39pm.